Teacher for Learning

What’s in it for Me?

The Teacher for Learning module of Ontario Extend includes the activity, What’s in it for Me? This activity challenged us to brainstorm a list of WIIFM from a student perspective. Rather than just brainstorm, I went back to conversations I’d had with students regarding the reasons they’re studying.

When I speak with my students, most can articulate a reason why they’re in the program they’ve chosen to pursue.  These responses are varied and cover the range of typical reasons adults may take education such as reskilling for a new job, advancing in their career, keeping busy in retirement, making more money, finishing a degree, etc.

While most students can quickly give a response on what going to school is going to gain them, if you query them what they will get out of a specific course in the program, or a topic in that course, they become much less confident in giving an answer on what they’re getting out of it.  They don’t often have the time to reflect on what learning a particular topic may do for them.

To me, this is another interesting component of WIIFM. In the programs where I teach, learning outcomes are determined in part by the institution and in part by the professional association which accredits those programs. There are certain topics which seem to always draw criticism from the students when they hit them.

For example, in a Health Information Management (HIM) program, students often don’t see the value in the topics of Risk Management and Proposal Development. These topics seem very far from what their concept of working in HIM will be. While I always try to explain why these topics are included, students frequently don’t see that these situations will ever apply to them.

WIIFM kicks in when students go out on a 4-week practicum and then return to give presentations on the experience. This is where I can see the light has gone on for certain students. One of my students who was a critic of these outcomes commented on learning about Request for Proposal once he came back from practicum.

I thought learning RFP was a waste of time. The second week my proctor asked me if I knew anything about proposals. I got to take part in developing a RFP. Now I’m glad I learned that stuff!

Sometimes WIIFM needs real-world context. Students may have preconceptions which make it hard to see what they may get out of a topic. It’s rewarding to see the light go on as they discover that something that they were skeptical about does indeed have something for them.

9x9x25 Challenge

9x9x25 Challenge – Into the Fray!


Photo by Tereza Hošková on Unsplash

The summer has disappeared and I suddenly find myself well into the fall season and well behind on activities.  I had great plans for the summer – make further progress on Ontario Extend modules, participate in Domain Camp, maybe take some time off and go hiking somewhere.  None of that happened.

Instead, I took on an extra course revision with a tight deadline and my summer plans evaporated.  My work on Ontario Extend activities dwindled and stopped.   Once I finished my revision, lethargy set in and I didn’t get back on track.  I needed a push.  A shot of something to get me moving and motivated again.

Renewed enthusiasm came out of the blue in an IDIG Tuesday: Tools and Tactics webinar put on by the Instructional Design Interest Group.   Joanne Kehoe, the moderator for the Open Up to Open Badges session, asked me if I planned on taking part in the Ontario Extend 9x9x25 Challenge.   Admitting to ignorance on what the Challenge was, she gave me enough of a teaser to peak my interest.

So, what is this 9x9x25 Challenge?

The challenge is all about getting reflective on teaching and learning.  The goal is to create 9 posts over 9 weeks, each at least 25 sentences long.  That can’t be too bad right?  (Hmm… how many sentences so far?)

This post and others created for the challenge will be in a new 9x9x25 Challenge category on the blog and will appear, as if by magic (and really through the hard work of Terry Greene and Alan Levine), on the Domains of Our Own 9x9x25 Challenge page.

I’m hoping that this challenge helps me out on a few fronts.

  1. It will provide some structure and get me back into the habit of posting again.   I want to continue on with my original goal of completing all of the Ontario Extend modules and gaining those spiffy badges!
  2. It will be a good opportunity to reflect on my own teaching and learning activities with an eye to strengthening my practice.  There’s always room for improvement and this usually happens as the result of taking a close look at what is and is not working.
  3. I think that the reflection will also be of help with some other educational activities.  I’m currently almost finished a degree in Adult Education.  In addition to taking courses this semester, my eye is on Winter 2019 when I will be completing two capstone courses whose goals are to deepen and refine our understanding of adult education.   The challenge should tie in nicely with the work I’ll be doing in completing the proposals for the capstones.

I’m looking forward to reading other participants’ blogs.  One of the greatest aspects of Extend is the community and contacts that you build.  There are wonderful opportunities to engage with and learn from others in the field.  I’ve made many amazing people through Extend and I’m excited to both visit with them again and to meet.


Happy writing everyone!

Domain Camp

This one time, at Domain Camp…

Photo by Krists Luhaers on Unsplash

When I started this blog as part of the Extend East cohort of Ontario Extend, I had high hopes of going back to expand on the Domains of Our Own aspect and build more at Reclaim Hosting than just the blog.  While I did have some early successes such as creating subdomains, I found that moving on into the more advanced items I wanted to include was languishing.  It felt like an uphill battle to figure out how to do the things I wanted.

Then, during a lunch-time drop-in chat session with Adam Levine (@cogdog), who is guiding Extend through the summer, I found out about Domain Camp.  This four-week summer camp was set up to help us develop our skills in managing our domains.   What a fantastic idea!  And just the kick in the rear I needed to get back to doing a bit more with Learning Squirrel.

I had already taken care of the Getting Ready for Domain Camp activities by having a domain with Reclaim Hosting.  The intro also introduced the Reclaim Hosting Community.  The Community is there to answer questions and facilitate discussion.  I wish I had known about this resource sooner!  Info on Domain Camp is also posted there.

So, what does a typical week look like at Domain Camp?

Tuesdays – sessions start for the week with a blog post announcement and a recorded live demo.  Activities for the week are posted in a special Domain Camp Activity section of the Extend Activity Bank.  Campers work at their own pace on activities that are of interest to them.  On Wednesdays, there’s a live Zoom drop-in session that allows campers to seek help from the camp staff.  And of course, we can always take advantage of the Reclaim Hosting Community.

I’m going to do a series of entries documenting my weeks in camp.

Domain Camp Week 1

This week introduce Cpanel, Reclaim’s control panel.    It was great to have a recorded demo to go to.  While I’d played around in Cpanel, I’d missed some very useful features.  Our first activity was to build a front entrance to our Domain using the Site Publisher.  I had done this (rather unsuccessfully) in the past.  I found I had trouble taking it beyond a rough landing page.  However, I played with it a bit as part of this activity.  This is the original landing page I had.

I changed the default template I was using for this activity and then combined Activity 2 which showed us how to use the file manager to change up images.  The revised landing page looked like this when I was done.

Already an improvement!  And what a feeling of accomplishment even with these first steps.

For the next activity, I started to set up a self-contained site.  I selected the Dimensions template from HTML5 Up! site.   I intended to just extract the site and to change the name.   However, I quickly found that I wanted to do more.  And that this would require me going in and making code changes.  I’ve started to tackle this and am happy with my progress so far!  My first changes included:

  • Adding the Learning Squirrel name and tag
  • Changing a button and linking it to the main blog
  • Changing page headers to reflect Learning Squirrel
  • Adding a new sub-menu for Videos and editing the content to redirect to the Learning Squirrel YouTube Channel and to start adding a list of favourite videos by others.

There are tons more things I want to do including changing all submenus to ones I want for my page, changing background images, editing front page content.  More to come!  This sit will be updating regularly and I hope it will become a template I can use for the actual landing page in time.   This sandbox version of the landing page can be found at http://www.learningsquirrel.ca/camp and will be evolving.  A couple images of progress are below.  More to come as Camp progresses!

Teacher for Learning

Taking the Plunge

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

A very special Ontario Extend welcome to #ExtendWest-ers – the @OntarioExtend Extend West cohort.  It’s great to see how many of you have decided to take the plunge and leap into the Ontario Extend pool!

For those of you arriving at this blog post who aren’t in the #ExtendWest cohort, you can still join in the fun at any time through Ontario Extend.

This week, we’re exploring the Teacher for Learning module.  As an alumnus of #ExtendEast, I thought I’d start off this week by going back to look at where that cohort started.  Valerie Lopes kicked off the week with a post: What can we do ensure that we teach for learning?  Her post is a fantastic introduction to the module.

One of the great things about Extend is the ability to take it at your own pace.  You don’t have to complete the entirety of a module before you move on.  You can choose your own speed and path through Extend.  During #ExtendEast I did a some of the activities but didn’t get through the whole module before we moved on.

#ExtendWest is giving me the chance to go back, revisit the modules, and continue to explore them.  What’s on my radar for this week?

The Daily Extend.

I love the daily prompts.  They can be done relatively quickly. But they can also grow beyond the Tweet if they tweak your interest.  Check out this awesome post by Irene Stewart who explored #oext167 – It’s Technically a Celebration in more detail.

Taking advantage of the flexibility to go where you want in Extend, I’ve also set a personal goal for this cohort.  I want to go back to the start at #oext001 and work my way forward to where I started.  While I plan on beginning this week, it’s going to take a while to get through them.  This is a fun little side excursion and has absolutely nothing to do with challenging @greg_rodrigo on the leaderboard.

Activity Bank. 

While I’ve completed several of the activities in the Teacher for Learning Module such as Misunderstood, Syllabus Concept Map, and Cornell Notes, there are still lots more to explore! This week I plan on completing at least 1 activity from the module.  Some of the Extend West cohort have already dipped into Teacher for Learning.  Today I found this great post by Lisa Koster in which she looks at a course she’ll be teaching in “Syllabus Concept Map Activity”.

Did you know that the Activity Bank not only includes the activities found in the modules but lots of others?  My stretch goal for this week is to complete an activity from the Teacher for Learning area that’s outside of the module.

Domains of Our Own. 

One of my absolute favourite things about Ontario Extend is discovering what others have done.  Becoming part of the Extend community and learning from others has been truly inspiring.  This week, I’m very much looking forward to reading what other Extenders are posting to their blogs.

You can quickly find the latest post to Extend blogs at the Domains portion of Extend. You’ll also find buttons that link you to specific sections such as the #ExtendWest cohort.

If you haven’t set up a blog, I highly recommend it.  It opens up a whole other world of Extend.  If you’re not confident in setting one up, never fear!  Many of us were that way.  There are great resources at the Domains site and lots of us who are willing to help out.  Everyone starts out with baby steps:  like Greg’s Baby Steps in Extend.   This blog, set up during the Extend West Kick-off meeting gives you an idea of how quickly a blog site can be set up.

My blog, Learning Squirrel is set up and running.  However, I decided to do a full site with Reclaim Hosting.    Now that I’m into my second time around, I want to start expanding on the blog portion.  My goal is to move beyond the basic blog to include an area for curated items and a link to my videos. This will require me to continue to build my skill set but it’s an exciting challenge!

What Will You Extend?

Whether you’re ready to jump off that cliff or just dip your toes into the Extend waters, I hope you all have a fantastic time this week.  I’m looking forward to seeing your contributions as you explore Extend and build your personal learning networks!




Baking Your Cake…. and Eating it Too!

As I round out my experience with the Extend East cohort, I’ve been reflecting on the experience and what I’ve taken away from it.  Although this comes at the end of my time with the cohort, it really belongs with the Experimenter module.  The whole process of Extend was a chance to play with new creative challenges, perspectives, ideas, and tools.

I’ve often considered the practice of teaching and learning to be similar to building a cake.  There are many layers which go into building the cake, and you need to check your recipe from time to time to see if it is still delicious or if it needs to be tweaked.  Through Extend, I’ve added many new layers to my cake.

Using the cake as my guide, I thought I’d document some of the layers I love the most from my experience with Extend to date.

One of the most foundational layers for me was Twitter.  Honestly, I’d had a Twitter account for years and I’d tweeted maybe a half-dozen times.  I’d never really understood the power of Twitter.  I admit that I was nervous when I found out we needed to Tweet for the Daily Extend.  However, I soon found that it can be a rewarding way to share what I’ve done and interact with others.   I’ve gone from a Twitter-phobe to an enthusiastic user.    It’s opened me up to a world of new connections.

Domains of Our Own (DoOO) and WordPress also are part of the foundation of my new cake.  The opportunity to start a domain of my own and host it at Reclaim is really encouraging me to spread my wings as an Experimenter.   It’s let me experience many new things about setting up websites and how to run a blog using WordPress.  I know I will continue to learn more as I go.  My next steps are to build a front page/landing site and to install a curation type of tool.  This layer is one that will keep expanding as there are many different ways to expand my online presence with the website.

Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) involves bringing research to teaching in a systematic way.  As teachers, we should be continually striving to improve our practices. SoTL applies research and evidence to support the practice.  I had been playing around with SoTL, although I didn’t have a name for it in my classes.  I collected input from students and outcomes and applied that in making changes in my classes, tools, and teaching practice.  However, what I was missing from this scenario was the back end evaluation which made this a full cycle and allowed for continuous improvement.  This is an area I’d like to continue to expand, applying research methodologies to continue to improve the flavour of this layer of my cake.

The Open Faculty Patchbook is a site I was introduced to through Extend.  This site, developed by Learning Design and Support (LDS) at Fleming College gathers “patches” from faculty.  It’s a compilation where each contributor shares a story about teaching and learning.  As this has grown, it’s also been gathered together into a book that will be provided to new faculty.  What a great way to give new people the benefit of others’ experiences!  This initiative has been so successful, it’s spun off into the Open Learner Patchbook to give the other side of the perspective and let students have a voice about their experiences.

Widely available and openly shareable resources.  Who knew?  Extend gave me a taste of Open Educational Resources (OER) and my practice will never be the same.  Lately, the trend has been towards curation when designing courses, rather than reliance on a single textbook.  OER makes this approach much more palatable by presenting many more options for content.  OER Commons has become one of my new, favourite hangouts.

As someone who spends most of their time involved in distance education, the Collaborator module and Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) brought me out of my isolation.  This digital network facilitates learning and the sharing of thoughts and experiences of people and organizations.  You can interact at whatever level you wish, be that lurking to read or giving people a taste of your own work and sharing with the group.  The development of a PLN has made a significant impact on my practice and brought me out of isolation and into a vibrant network of people who constantly amaze me with their insights, creativity, and humour.

I’ve included Ontario Extend as the icing on my cake.  Ontario Extend is what holds the layers of my cake together and makes it into  a sweet and delicious treat.  Every day working with the Extend is like a celebration – it’s fun and wacky and brings me many gifts.

If you haven’t tried Extend, I encourage you to give it a taste!

Extend, Scholar

Subterranean Scholarship Blues (#oext138)


Today’s Daily Extend (#oext138) is titled Subterranean Scholarship Blues.

This Extend challenged us to consider instructional challenges we have faced in the past.   This Extend ties into the Scholar Module during which we will explore the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL).   The Scholarship module is all about evaluating your teaching practice and finding the places where it’s just not working, where we can improve as teachers, or how we can better support our students.

For this Extend, I decided to create a mini-presentation about an instructional challenge I faced.

A few years ago, I was asked to step into a course that was half-way through the semester when the original instructor had to leave.  This course which taught Microsoft Office applications was a challenge for me.  I quickly found that the students were struggling and were not very engaged in the class.  We shuffled through the remainder of the semester as I tried a variety of approaches, none of which seemed to do much.

At the end of the semester, I asked the students to participate in an open discussion about the course with the goal of researching and experimenting with alternative approaches in subsequent years.  Once the students realized there would be no repercussions for speaking up, the floodgates opened and a productive talk ensued.  The key issues that the students had with the course were:

  • A huge spiral-bound textbook which only 2 people in a class of 35 had ever opened and used – no one would carry it to class
  • Slide decks for the class were not engaging
  • More demonstration and less lecture were wanted
  • The computer lab was tightly scheduled, leaving them little time outside of class for practice
  • Students like to work on their own devices, not be tied to the school computers
  • Students have many outside commitments and want flexibility as to when they work on their studies
  • Initial student proficiency has great variation, meaning some students are bored and some struggle to keep up

Research into the tools which might be available to improve the situation led me to Paradigm’s SNAP tool.  This tool allows for web-based training and assessment.  The textbook comes in a convenient electronic format bundled into the web tool.  Pre-assessments, guides, and tutorials allow students to self-assess their proficiency for each lesson and adapt the level of study needed.  Students can break out of the classroom, have availability to work at any time, and can access the tool from their own devices.

We’ve just gone through the first semester using the new tool.  While there were a few teething pains, overall the response from the students was very enthusiastic.  In future classes, I’ll continue to refine how the tool is used with the goal of increasing student engagement, learning, and satisfaction.

The link below is the slide deck I created for the Daily Extend.

A huge thanks to Greg Rodrigo (@greg_rodrigo) for his recent workshop on Creating Dynamic Presentations.  He helped me to break free from the PowerPoint bullet list.

Instructional Challenge Presentation


Reflections on Extend East Launch


A short while ago, I did a short reflection on my experience so far with Ontario Extend’s East Cohort.  I was lucky to have that reflection shared at the eCampus Ontario site.    I’m also going to repost it here (thanks for the suggestion Terry Greene!) to share with those who are following the Domains of Our Own blogs.    If you’re here and haven’t been part of an Extend Cohort, I highly recommend it.  (Next Cohort will start on May 5 – signup here: https://bit.ly/2GwMwWu)  Read on, for my thoughts on Extend!

I joined the Extend East cohort of eCampusOntario’s Extend initiative as a means to developing skills in online learning and teaching, especially in the area of emerging technologies. I’d stalked the Extend site in the past and had seen the modules based on the Anatomy of a 21st Century Educator. This fit in with some of the institutions where I work, who use the framework for instructional design. Rather than just work through the modules on my own, I decided to join a cohort going through the modules together. Has it delivered what I expected so far?  Absolutely not.

Wait a minute? Not?

Let me explain. I expected an introduction to the framework. I expected to gain knowledge in the six modules. Check and check. So far, so good.

What is not what I expected is what else the Extend experience has delivered. While there are many aspects of Extend that go above and beyond, here are a few of my favourites.

Sharing resources. The Extend community is very open about showing off things they’ve done or discovered and making them available for everyone to use. I feel like someone has just handed me a beautifully wrapped gift that, when opened, has a wealth of tools, educational resources, and ideas that I can use and adapt to enhance my course design and teaching. Open educational resources – what a wonderful new world!

Fun. This is not the dry, boring experience I was expecting. What people contribute is often silly, humorous, or just plain weird. And that only enhances our learning.

Community. For the most part, I’m an isolated practitioner, working for several clients in a distance format. This means that I’m often very isolated both socially (no water cooler to chat around!) and from a sharing of professional knowledge perspective. Working through the experience in a cohort has introduced me to many amazing people with a widely diverse range of knowledge and experience.  I feel like I’ve suddenly become connected to a network of brilliant professionals that will continue to expand and grow even after the cohort has finished the Extend.

Extend hasn’t met my expectations, it has shattered them with an experience far beyond what I anticipated. Huge thanks to everyone at eCampusOntario / Ontario Extend and to all the other Extenders out there.  It’s been a blast so far. Can’t wait for more!


Setting a Table for Collaboration

This week we started into the Collaborator module at Ontario Extend.  This module is the one that I’m a bit intimidated by.  While many people come to Ontario Extend with a well-developed personal learning network, my network is somewhat limited.  Those who I do consider to be in my network are generally as unconnected technologically as I was prior to starting Ontario Extend.   I’m anticipating a challenge in the activities of this module.   That said, I’m also greatly looking forward to building a network.

So far, in the activities through Ontario Extend, I’ve met many wonderful people who bring not only a love of education but a wealth of knowledge to the table.    Rather than being that lone practitioner sitting in a coffee shop, working away, I now am starting to feel like someone who can enjoy a meal out with a large, boisterous, and fun group of peers.

This brings me to the activity “The Collaborative Dining Table”.   In this activity, the goal is to reflect on the last year of our professional life and ideas or projects that you’ve collaborated on.  Then one of those projects will be explored via the collaborative dining table.

Brainstorming……   what have I worked on this year?

This is a great exercise to review accomplishments for this year.

  • SNAP – Investigating and implementing a new technology for Microsoft Office courses
  • Instructional Design lead for revised Anatomy & Physiology course
  • Developer for an Organizational Behaviour course for the health sector, including a semester-long integrated case study
  • Developer for a new Records Management course for Health Information Management
  • Team member on Big Data Analytics course initiative
  • Instructional Design lead for revisions of Web Developer course
  • Participated as a reviewer for CHIMA’s Canadian HIM Lifecycle book
  • Neehr Perfect – championed the adoption of new Electronic Health Record for use in the classroom
  • Copic 2 – Development of a new art course

The project I’m going to look at for my dining table is the SNAP project.

I was asked to take over a course on Microsoft Office applications for one of the programs at Fleming College.  This occurred mid-semester, making it an interesting entry point to the course.  By the end of the semester, I knew changes needed to happen for this course to engage students and be effective.  As luck would have it, the version of Office used by the school was being updated over the summer, making it the perfect time to transition.

I invited the students to speak openly with me about what they thought was working and what wasn’t in the course.   Two major issues emerged from these discussions.  The first was that students were assigned a very large textbook which only a few students ever opened.   The paper-based text was bulky, meaning students weren’t invested in bringing it and the exercises assigned out of it, which were intended to build skills, were rarely completed.  The second major issue was in the huge range of skill sets with which the students entered the course.  Those who had familiarity with the products were often bored and disengaged, particularly at the start of the semester.  Those who had no experience sometimes found the pace challenging.  Getting a middle ground proved very difficult.

Eventually, I decided on implementing Paradigm’s SNAP tool.  This web-based training and assessment tool let me address the issues I was seeing with the course.   This tool has several advantages.  Students can use pre-assessments to gauge their level of competence.  If they have the skill level, the course was set up to let them move into the assessment.  For those who didn’t have the skill level, there are exercises, tutorials, and guides, offering a variety of levels of assistance.  This allowed students to get the support they needed while avoiding having them spend significant time on topics they had skills in.  The tool also got rid of the bulky textbook.  The tool includes an electronic version of the text if students need to reference it.     While there were a few teething pains with using the tool, the students were much more enthusiastic about this approach and the class had higher marks than its previous incarnation.


A Scurry of Squirrels

Welcome to Learning Squirrel v2.0!

Bigger!  Badder!  And now with more nuts!

Learning Squirrel started out its life on WordPress.  You can still find the first few posts that were the start of the scurry at learningsquirrel.wordpress.com.

I was given the opportunity (aka. nudged by Terry Greene our guru and guide to the Extend experience…  thanks Terry!)  to set up a Reclaim hosting site through Ontario Extend while participating in the Extend East cohort.

Moving to my own domain opens up a whole host of opportunities and will allow me to explore and to participate in Extend to the fullest.   I’m really excited about this opportunity and hope you’ll enjoy the new digs.

Watch for changes and updates as I add new features and explore this larger space to work!

Teacher for Learning

Organizing Knowledge w/ Cornell

Woman surrounded with paper KZ4LB


In the Organizing Knowledge section of Ontario Extend‘s Teacher for Learning Module, we’re invited to try using Cornell Notes as an alternate way to take notes.  I’d never used this method, so I decided to give it a whirl.

These days, it seems easiest to just start out with a YouTube video, so I took advantage of this freely available resource to find out the basics of the Cornell System.  After watching Jennifer Desrocher’s How to take Cornell Notes, I felt like I was armed with the knowledge I needed to try it out.

Now I just needed a topic.  The Activity Bank entry suggested perhaps taking notes on a conference keynote or a video.   Great idea!  Back to YouTube.   I’d been intrigued by the Tweets being exchanged in regards to Open Educational Resources and the OER Commons so I looked for a video that would fit with that theme.  I came across a TED Talk: Knowledge Belongs to Everyone: David Ernst at TEDxKyoto 2012 and thought it gave a great (now historical) perspective on Open Textbooks.

My thoughts on using Cornell Notes:

  • The essential question and summary made me put my arms around the topic as a whole.
  • I like that it encouraged spacing out of the material, rather than dense blocks of notes I often take.
  • The format allowed use of colours and graphics which are very appealing to me. (I’m a big fan of mind maps for certain types of notes).
  • The left-hand column would be a big plus during studying.  You could scan down the column and quickly identify areas you were confident with and those where you needed to go and read the notes on the right.
  • It worked great for a short video.  Not sure how it would be for longer materials.  That said, I tend to get caught up in the creative part which slows me down.

Cornell Notes

Cornell Notes – Extend Activity

Template for Cornell Notes from Template Lab.  http://templatelab.com/cornell-notes/

“Woman surrounded with paper KZ4LB” flickr photo by Kathleen Zarubin   https://www.flickr.com/photos/64204416@N02/5847087749 shared under a Creative Commons CC BY 2.0 license.